From the team at BBC Wildlife Magazine

6 starling facts you need to know

Discover 6 fascinating facts about the BTO October Garden Bird of the Month.

© John Harding/BTO
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© John Harding/BTO

Do starlings migrate?

Starlings use gardens all year round but in the winter our resident population is boosted by migrant birds from mainland Europe. Garden BirdWatch data reflects this with the number of gardens reporting starlings rapidly increasing from October onwards.


Starling murmurations

During the winter you may be lucky enough to see a starling murmuration. These flocks gather in the evening and perform amazing aerobatic displays before dropping into their favoured roost sites. Flocks provide safety in numbers for birds returning to roost as predators find it hard to target individual birds. In addition, they benefit from the warmth of other birds and the opportunity to exchange information.

Starling murmuration in Aberystwyth, Wales
Starling murmuration in Aberystwyth. © Keith Morris/Getty

Starling murmurations are one of the most beautiful and enchanting natural sights in the UK. If you want to see one for yourself, check out this guide we wrote just for you!

13 best places to see roosting starlings


Are starlings getting rarer?

The starling population has undergone a long-term population decline throughout Europe. In the UK this resulted in almost an 80 per cent population decrease between 1987 and 2012. The decline is thought to be linked to reduced feeding opportunities due to changing land use practices. It’s not all bad news however, as both recent Garden BirdWatch and the Breeding Bird Survey results show a slight upturn in numbers.


What do starlings eat?

During the breeding season, starlings rely on invertebrates, especially leatherjackets (the larvae of crane flies) taken from short grassland, including lawns. In the summer and autumn, they take more seeds and berries and this seasonal shift is matched by a lengthening of their intestine to cope with the increased plant material, which is harder to digest. They will readily use bird feeders throughout the year.

Starling - Sturnus vulgaris - Juvenile
Juvenile starlings are much duller than the adults. © Christine Matthews/BTO

Why don't some people like starlings?

Quite a few garden birdwatchers complain about starlings because they seem to clean out a feeding station in minutes. Starlings do this as they evolved to feed quickly in flocks, rather than because they are greedy. It’s not their fault but it can get expensive so if this is a problem, try providing food, especially fat products, in feeders that exclude larger birds.


Starling plumage

While starlings appear black at a distance, close up they have glossy green and purple iridescent plumage. In the breeding season, adults have yellow bills with different colour bases depending on their sex; in males this is blue and in females pink. Their winter plumage is duller with white spots and the bill is dark. Juveniles are dull brown in colour, often with a pale throat.

Common Starling - Sturnus vulgaris
Common starling showing off its beautiful plumage. © chris2766/Getty

Smallest starling chicks put more effort into finding food

A difficult start in life is not necessarily a disadvantage.

Biologists have found that the smallest starling chicks learn behavioural strategies that produce fatter adults.

Starlings that struggle to compete for food in the nest grow up to forage more quickly and to put more effort into finding food – to the extent that they prefer to rummage through sand for hidden morsels rather than plumping for freely available food nearby.


A cost of the extra weight, though, is that the birds don’t fly as well as their advantaged peers, which may make them more vulnerable to predators.

The British Trust of Ornithology (BTO) works in partnership with over 40,000 volunteer birdwatchers to chart the fortunes of UK birds.

Among the surveys that we coordinate is our popular Garden BirdWatch, the largest year-round survey of garden birds in the world.

Each month we highlight a bird for you to look out for in your garden.

For more information about Garden BirdWatch or to speak to the Garden Ecology Team please email


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